Updated: Jul 15, 2021
The parent and child relationship is as primordial as it gets. It's one that shapes and influences our lives right to the very end and like every other relationship, it has its ups and downs - remember your teens?
It's also not uncommon for many to have fraught relationships with their parents right into adulthood, and at some level harbour resentment and blame for where we find ourselves in life and the 'lack' that we may feel.
The truth that we all realise at some stage is that raising children is bloody hard work - and it goes on for a lifetime. Kids don't exactly come with an instruction manual either and with the changing times, every generation of parents are left to navigate this minefield of parenting pretty much on their own.
I remember watching a netflix documentary on Tony Robbins once who had a very sage piece of advice on this matter.
"If you are going to blame your parents for all the bad things in your life, you also need to give them the credit for all the good things!"
So lets begin a conversation on everything our parents nailed - things they got right about parenting, which although may have sucked at the time, with hindsight we can see it was absolutely the right way to bring us up.
Here's my list of ten.
I will begin by saying that there was ample love and care and no neglect or abuse in our household. It goes without saying but this was the foundation on which everything else below rested on, which is why it all worked.
1. There was a clear boundary between the parent and the child
Growing up we got a lot of love and care from our parents but it was also crystal clear in our minds that they were the parents and we were the child. We knew that we had to be respectful towards our parents (and other elder members of the family) and be grateful for all that our family did for us. There was no sense of entitlement growing up.
In some ways the traditional (Fijian-)Indian culture we grew up in at the time helped instill this in our young minds but it was also enforced in the day-to-day at home.
Like any other kid, we too were constantly testing boundaries to see how much we could get away with... I remember this would tolerated to some extent before the behaviour was called out as being unacceptable and repercussion that we would bring onto ourselves spelt out in no uncertain terms... I was a particularly 'short-fused' child so had plenty of practice with here ;-)
2. They adjusted the boundaries as we moved in our teen and early adulthood years
As we grew into our teens and early adulthood, the way our parents interacted with us changed. They treated us like the young adults that we were, with our own sense of discerning intelligence, hopes, dreams, personalities, etc.
The rules of the household, as in what was acceptable and what was not, was by this stage embedded in our minds so no micro-management was needed there. Yet there was sufficient freedom to make and learn from our own mistakes.
Mum and dad were still fairly strict in our early teenage years, especially around the 'company' we kept. When were 13-15, we would not be allowed to 'hang' with friends after school or over weekends - forget sleepovers. They were always conscious that we did not get unduly influenced by other kids or rather other people's 'bad parenting' ... It wasn't until they felt that we had sufficient maturity to see things for what they were, did they loosen the leash.
Of course this was annoying at the time because it felt like other kids had more freedom than we did but with hindsight I am grateful to have been 'sheltered' during these early vulnerable years of teen life before being set free in later years.
3. Everyone had to contribute to the running of the household, with no gender specific roles
We pretty much grew up on a small farm - had chickens, ducks, goats, extensive vegetable gardens, cooked all of our own meals, made our own oils, condiments and pickles and lived a fairly self-sufficient live off the land and sea. All this whilst my parents had full time "office" jobs; dad co-founded a IT company with his mate and mum worked in the finance department of a large company.
Needless to say, there was a lot that needed to get done and everyone had to contribute to the running of the household.
Even from a very young age, we all had clearly defined chores, roles and responsibilities at home. I'd be lying if I say that we loved doing these chores ... we were kids - we didn't. It was painful, especially cleaning windows every two weeks... Why mum, why?
But again with hindsight, this made us feel like we were part of a team and had a role to play to keep the team going. In the process we also picked up practical life skills that only come from doing.
It's funny, after all these years as I work with large companies on setting strategies, putting in place structures and shaping cultures, the same consideration applies - clearly defined roles and responsibilities gives people a sense of purpose and belonging which are key to building and driving engagement.
Our roles were also gender agnostic - my brothers washed dishes and did the vacuuming. I cleaned the chicken coop and tendered to the goats (except the big male one...). We all did what was required, although we did have different quirks, interests and strengths so gravitated towards some tasks naturally more than others.
4. There was a stable routine
I personally get bored with routine and am always mixing things up but can see that it was such a stabilising factor growing up.
My older sister would be up at 5.30am to prepare breakfast for the family and pack our lunches.
Mum and dad would potter around doing other household chores
Dad would do the morning drop-offs, aiming to but never quite leaving by 7.30am
Mum would always be the last person to get into the car
I was always 15mins late getting to school, much to my teacher's annoyance ...
We got home from school at around 4pm in our school bus
We had a full two hours of freedom before mum and dad got home - scrambling to do our chores just before they got back
Mum and dad would be back home between 5.30pm and 6.00pm from work and we'd sit down for a family dinner at around 7pm
I would also be the last person at the table begrudgingly finishing off my food as dad would not give me leave to waste food, knowing too well I had skipped breakfast and chucked my lunch in the bushes on the way back from school ...
We'd do our homework until bed
Occasionally we watched TV (see point 6)
This happened everyday. Dad had to travel every now and then for work so mum would hold the fort whilst the same routine played out.
5. The kitchen was the heart of the home and everyone's territory
Mum and dad are foodies through and through - and I mean real foodies - the type that can cultivate and cook amazing food!
Dad grew up on the land and sea so was very skilled at farming and fishing. He attended to this every morning and evening before and after work. Most of our fruits and vegetables came from the garden, the eggs and meat from the chickens and ducks in our backyard and the seafood from the ocean near our home.
My parents were also amazing cooks and were always experimenting with new ways of cooking and dishes. Mum had folders full of recipes clipped from magazines and learnt from friends. Whilst Indian food was our staple, we always had a variety of Asian, English and European dishes growing up.
Importantly for us as kids, the kitchen was never out of bounds.
From a very early age, we all were free to cook and create what we wanted. When we cooked, we always cooked for the whole family - there was never really any room to be individualistic. And even when our dishes were spectacular failures, my parents never chastised us for trying - everyone sat around the dinner table politely ate the disastrous cooking...
Eating well is so central to our health and learning how to work with a variety of ingredients to create a satisfying and nutritious meal is such an important life skill and one I am personally very grateful that our parents passed onto us. Every one in our family cooks and the food at family gatherings are to die for!
6. There was no mid-week television, with some allowances
TV only got introduced to Fiji where I grew up only in the 1990's and it was a while before the programming was 'full'. Regardless we had a no mid-week TV rule, which meant that whilst everyone around the country was manically following 'Shortland Street' (Kiwi version of Neighbours), we had no idea what was going on.
Again, as a kid, it sucked to be so disconnected but years later as an adult I ended up making the very same choice for myself and stopped watching all commercial TV. I still consume content that interests me but on my own terms, in my own time and without being bombarded by annoying ads.
Like all other rules, my parent did make allowances so it never felt too rigid. For example, after much pleading we were allowed to watch The X-Files, which started my lifelong affair with sci-fi. We were also allowed to watch all the nature documentaries which again has shaped my love of travel to far and remote regions of the worlds.
7. They involved 'the village' in our upbringing
We had a very large extended family both on mum's and dad's side. My parents never set out to be a disconnected nuclear family with a superhero attitude of doing everything themselves. They always stayed connected, involved and helped the broader extended family out, for which my cousins remain grateful even to this day.
Every weekend we would have one family gathering or another where everyone would come over. Mum and dad would put up an absolute feast for everyone. Our cousins would be there and we would have a ball hanging out. Most would not want to return home so they would be allowed to sleep over and dad would drop them off the following day. It was all great fun.
As kids we were just left to be. The adults did not need to 'organise' activities and hire clowns to entertain us - there were enough of us from all different age groups to do all the organising ourselves. By having everyone there, adults could be with adults and kids with kids - everyone was a winner.
School holidays also became an opportunity to connect with our grandmothers. Because mum and dad had to work, during school holidays dad would bring his mum and a few of her sisters over to 'look after us'. I spent my early childhood loitering around these old ladies, who would be sitting around doing crochet and gossiping. I picked up the crochet skills but thankfully not gossiping although was a very informed little kid! And I also learnt to make the meanest fish curry from my grandmother, a recipe she did not passed down to anyone else :-)
It was special having grandparents, cousins and so many aunts and uncles around growing up. And whilst it's not possible these days with so many people living overseas, I think it's still so important to create and connect with a broader community outside of the 'nuclear family' and share the burden of bringing up kids. It really does take a village.
8. We got to make our own 'big' decisions
Unlike the common narrative about 'Asian parents' ours thankfully never dictated to us what we had to study and what we had to become. There was no doubt that mum and dad were focused that we get a decent education - a priviledge they didn't have - but they never imposed on us what we study or the professions we chose.
We all carved our own path and still are in that regard.
Also, having had an arranged marriage themselves, my parents afforded us total freedom here. Admittedly the times were more conservative when my older siblings were going through the process and it no doubt required much adjustment on my parent's part ... but after providing their advice and perspective, they left the choice to their adult kids and have supported them unwaveringly ever since, as we too have navigated the inevitable ups and downs that comes with personal relationships.
9. They allowed their values to change with the times
It has been refreshing to see my parents morph and change, adjusting their values and perspectives with the times and place.
Two decades ago we all were very much living with very traditional Indian values-set. I catalysed a shift in 2001 by moving to Australia and the family later followed. I also have a much younger brother who unlike the rest of us grew up in Australia.
It has been great to see my parents adjust their values and approach to cater to a much younger kid, born in a different generation and having to grow up in a different society. They kept the fundamentals in place but made important allowances e.g. the fact that the neither him or I feel the need or urgency to conform to a traditional pattern of life and living.
10. We grew up connected to the land, with a no-waste mentality
I have alluded to this above but the way we were brought up helped engender a very strong connection to the land. There was also a spiritual dimension to this as in our Hindu culture the Earth is revered as a mother. But beyond this our reverence for the land was grounded in practical and good old fashioned common sense - respect and treat the space that provides you the food, be grateful for what you get and show your gratitude by not wasting anything.
My parents led my example here. They've always grown and cooked most of their food themselves. We mostly ate whole foods. Our diet was mostly plant-based. The oils we used were natural and healthy and homemade.
And we simply did not waste things. Even today they painstakingly collect all the grey water to reused in the garden. All kitchen waste gets composted. Food is never wasted - excess fruits and vegetables are made into jams, pickles and preserves or frozen.
Admittedly I was never much of a gardener until COVID provided the space for my to finally start my own inner-city garden. But even before this I always had a keen sense of where the food I ate came from and made very conscious decisions around this, which is what we all need to do to save our planet ...